Sunday, January 9, 2011

Driving Questions

Driving Questions from

The Driving Question is central to the inquiry process and must come before deciding on the project or unit activities.  The natural outcome of the project or unit is that it is driven by the Driving Question. 
A good Driving Question makes a unit or project intriguing, complex, and problematic.  Although standard classroom assignments, like story problems and essays, pose questions that students must answer, a Driving Question requires multiple activities and the synthesis of different types of information before it can be answered. 

It brings cohernce to disparate unit or project activities and serves as a “lighthouse” that promotes student interest and directs students toward the units or project’s goals and objectives.

The Driving Questions should address authentic concern.  For example, when creating the Driving Question it is useful to ask yourself: “Where is the content I am trying to teach used in the real world?”  Although it is usually easier to focus students’ attention on a single question, some topics will require multiple Driving Questions.

Driving Questions are:  provocative; open-ended; go to the heart of a discipline or topic; challenging; can arise from real world dilemmas that students find interesting; and are consistent with curricular standards and frameworks. 

Take the quiz at:  to determine how much you understand Driving Questions.

In the ICCARS project, there are three things that should come through in any Driving Question for this project:  it should focus in on climate change; requires students to have some understanding of remote sensing to provide evidence to their answer; and utilize NASA data in some way.

Here are some examples of Driving Questions that have been turned in so far.  What do you think of them?  Share your comments below:

  1. How can we, your family and society, lessen our impact on Global Climate Change and what data supports these solutions?
  2. How can you as a student use simple tools and instruments (remote sensing) to gather data and evidence to draw conclusions about patterns of weather and climate in your own environment?
    • What kind of correlation exists between altitude and weather statistics such as temperature and wind speed?  Will this correlation be consistent as weather conditions change?
    • How do human activities affect climate change such as global warming?
    • How does climate change affect living organisms in Dearborn, MI?
    • How can you explain the relationship between weather and climate and how does this relationship contribute to climate change?
  3. How is climate change and global warming evident in Southgate?
  4. Multiple Driving Questions, but still needs a main one.
    • How do changes in land use affect local water quality?
    • How do changes in land use affect local temperature and precipitation?
    • How do changes in land use affect carbon sequestering?
    • How do changes in land use affect air quality?
    • How do changes in land use affect biodiversity?
  5. How can we use kites equipped with weather sensors and cameras to learn about how animals adapt to climate change?
    • How does a kite fly on a windy day?
    • How does our team work together safely to fly large kites equipped with remote sensing devices?
    • What information can we gather with remote sensing devices and what can it tell us about animals and their habitats?
  6. What’s in the Atmosphere and Why Should I Care?
    • How does the composition of the earth's atmosphere affect its properties and behavior?
    • How does solar radiation influence conditions on earth?
    • How can scientific tools help us understand human impact on the atmosphere?
  7. Why does Avondale Middle School and it's local area look the way it does?
  8. How can you lessen your Carbon Footprint, here in Detroit?
    • What role does carbon dioxide play in global warming?
    • How do cardon dioxide levels in Detroit compare to levels in other areas?
    • How do our actions impact carbon dioxide levels?
    • What can we do at the individual level to reduce carbon dioxide levels?  At the local level?  At the global level?


  1. What can we learn about climate change by studying land use? may work as an overarching driving question for number four.

  2. For Wanda-From the article-Land Use as Climate Change Mitigation by Brian Stone: However, an established body of evidence suggests that land use is playing a measurable and significant role in ongoing climate change at multiple geographic scales and through a set of mechanisms independent of GHG emissions (2, 3). In light of this evidence, a more comprehensive and, ultimately, effective framework for climate change management must respond to both the atmospheric and land surface drivers of warming. The development of such a framework will require not only a redefinition of the terminology employed in national and international agreements but a fundamental reassessment of the governmental structure through which the climate problem is best monitored and managed.

  3. Just exploring the history of local climate change and how it shaped where we live creates a learning opportunity that is connected to the student personally. This creates an opportunity to ask questions about how where we live is effected by weather events that add up to climate change. How might this area look in 100 years? Use the patterns of climate change as evidence to your prediction...

  4. As a middle school teacher, I favor the driving questions that first introduces students to the equipment we use for the kite flying and remote sensing, then asks them to apply the data. This is important because many of my students have never flown a kite or used any type of remote sensing equipment. For many of them working and playing outdoors is something they are unfamiliar with. I think it is crucial that they are comfortable with the equipment and the processes used to gather data before we begin to work on analyzing the information.

    My students are so excited about using this equipment! They are counting the days until spring. I know that once they know how to use the equipment and begin to gather data they will want to analyze it. There will be a sense of ownership of the data and they will want to know what it means and how it is important.

    When we have studied data and other science concepts in class one of the main questions I hear from my kids is "...but what does it mean?" I think that question is so powerful in teaching science and is especially important in teaching climate change issues. It is after all, the question that has to be answered by all of us. I think it is important for students to realize they are part of a large scientific community all asking the same type of questions.

  5. As I read through the list of driving questions I was surprised by the wide range of topics that are being covered. Across the board we are covering many aspects of climate change.
    Although the driving questions sound interesting I'm not sure that all of them contain all three of the ICCARS focal points mentioned above in the blog. Some are very general and mention nothing about using NASA data or Remote Sensing even though both aspects may be a part of the project. The Southgate driving question is an example of this. In our project we will be using NASA data and remote sensing but our driving question makes no mention of either. Should the driving questions make mention of these specific aspects of the ICCARS project?
    On the flip side of the coin some groups have chosen to list multiple driving questions. Is it necessary for all of these questions to point back to the larger driving question? Do they? Also should these additional driving questions be open ended, thought provoking, and complex enough to require multiple tasks and the synthesis of different types of information? In other words are they really driving questions as defined above?
    Just some thoughts. The projects really do sound exciting.

  6. OK. Probably some verbal diarrhea here, but I've really been tossing this around in my head and need to just get it in writing.

    So. I guess I've always approached life in a "big picture" manner, so my driving ideology involves how students see the world, and react to it on a personal level. The following dicussion relates to climate change, but it could just as easily be politics, finances, technology or pop culture. Here it goes.

    Kids come to my classroom with preconceived notions about climate change. Whether they've just seen "An inconvenient truth", been reading up on "Snopes", or parroting back conversations from their peers. I guarantee that all my students will tell you they know the "truth" about climate change. However, they have absolutely no personal concrete, experiential,or scientific evidence to support their position. This is unacceptable. Therefore, the driving question to me is...

    ...Can students use the tools, resources and data available to them to gather their own information about patterns of local, regional and global weather, and therefore draw their OWN conclusions about trends (ie. climate change)

    In other words, can they think for themselves, and learn to take the "truth" communicated to them with a grain of salt and a healthy cynical attitude.

    If we accept this as a meaningful goal, I believe that this drives a second, related set of inquiry into the means to do so. I believe each of the following flows from the previous question.

    1. Can students collect accurate meteorological and spatial data using simple tools--weather stations, aeropods, GPS units to draw conclusions about trends in their local weather?

    2. With an understanding of this data, can students use NASA remote sensing data to expand their learning to regional, national and global patterns? In other words, once they understand how to use the data gathered from their own instruments, can they extend that knowledge to similar data, collected from similar tools, and available to them through NASA.

    3. Can students then use available networking tools (internet, social media, collaboratory sites) to share what they have learned with other students (again--local, regional, global) in order to synergize a deeper understanding. I believe this to be the most important question of them all.

    Well...what do you think? To nerdy?

    John P. Bayerl

  7. The fact that there is a wide range of driving questions points to the multidisciplinary aspect of this project. John B. your response is not nerdy and explains skills we hope students and ourselves will gain in this project.